So Paul believes that the kingdom of Heaven consists of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” They all go together: righteousness, peace, and joy. Hmm . . . each one is a gift from God. We just discussed righteousness and peace . . . but what about joy? Well, joy is something that delights in life. It always finds life worthwhile, even when face with problems. Joy does not come from circumstances; it faces them as they come.
Several years ago I met a lady who had been lying in her bed for 13 years. She has arthritis so bad that her joints were disconnected and she could not even raise her hands. Nevertheless, the smile on her face, the joy that evident in each conversation was contagious. She became an outstanding witness to the fact that joy like this kind is a gift from her Father. It comes out of relationship, not from circumstance. She had a tremendous ministry to the community around her because of her joy.
Then there is Len Bridges. several years, it must have been in 1983 or 84, I don’t remember, but my wife and I visited Len Bridges who was dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (or ALS, also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). He had been in tremendous pain for months. We originally went to minister healing to him, but it ended up that he ministered to us.
I remember his wife telling us how they had prayed for healing and had several different Pastors lay hands on him, but the healing had not manifested yet. But Len’s wife said, “Even still, our Lord has blessed us.”
I remember him sitting in his wheel chair, next to his wife, Gerry, and proudly telling us how they had prepared his funeral—picked the hymns and the entire service. Len said, “The Lord has given us strength we did not know, and he gave it when we needed it, and not before.” His words were slurred, but clear enough to understand. What I remember the clearest was how peaceful and confident both of them were.
I sat there wondering what it would it would have been like to be in my mid-forties, like Len was, and say good-bye to my kids and spouse. According to Len, “God has given us peace in our pain. He covers us all the time. Even when we are out of control, He is still there.”
While thinking about that time with Len and Gerry, I finally realize that Patrice and I were seeing, as Max Lucado once wrote, “holy jewels quarried out of the mine of despair.” Can I do that? Will I use a tragedy as a stumbling block . . . or as a steppingstone? Who were those two? How could they be so calm and peaceful? How could they see the pain, yet still look ahead with such faith?
The reality is that Len and Gerry had a sweet attitude and confident trust in their Lord; their Redeemer and friend. The two of them displayed such a wonderful peace and tremendous courage that I remember it all these years later.
There was no complaining, no sorrow, no questioning of the Lord’s greatness and faithfulness. Len explained that he felt a magnetic pull toward Jesus, and that he was “there with Christ” more than here on earth. He encouraged us with his rejoicing hope and rest in the Lord. He was truly a champion of our faith..
In this letter, Paul is saying that if joy is the center of your focus and interest, then you can easily give up some of things you enjoy and are free to participate in, if it is going to cause someone to “stumble,” or make them move beyond their own conscience. Does that make sense?
Let me explain it this way: Pretend you are driving down the road and about to enter a main highway; you see a yellow sign that says “YIELD.” It is telling you that you must proceed with caution. You don’t have to “stop,” but be conscious of others around you. As a reminder, you might want to hang one of those on your living room wall. Oh, I am not suggesting you steal one, but wouldn’t it be a great reminder, hanging there on your wall? My point is that this is a Christian philosophy—to yield, to give way, to give others the ability to worship freely without any encumbrance. Do not always insist on your rights, saying, “There is nothing wrong with a Christian doing that. Get over it!” Maybe not for you, but there are some issues that are not worth arguing about.
Now remember, there are some things that are clearly stated in the Scriptures and we don’t have room to argue. Those things are clear and without question. I am talking about those things the Lord has left up to you to decide within your own heart.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome